Deke: A look at the SEC, Part 2: South Carolina and Tennessee
by Deke Bellavia,posted Jul 15 2014 2:53PM
People sometimes ask me how come I know so much about college football. My response is that I read, look, listen and watch. Not to follow the nation’s toughest conference is flat out dumb. But hey, to each his own! Today was day two of SEC Media Days, so let's take a look at two more teams.
South Carolina Gamecocks: When he first took over at South Carolina, Coach Steve Spurrier was more of a sound bite than anything else, but in the past three seasons, his Gamecocks have become one of the best programs in the nation.
South Carolina is coming off their impressive third 11-win season, and no other team in the SEC East has a better record over that span. Entering the 2014 season, the Gamecocks look to be as solid as any club in the Eastern Division.
On offense, the team does have to replace a solid QB in Conner Shaw, but the return of RB Miles Davis makes things a little easier. Davis rushed for over 1,000 yards and 11 TD’s in 2013, averaging a whopping 6 six yards per rush, and he could be even better in 2014.
Dylan Thompson will take over at QB with some quality experience; he threw for over 700 yards and four TD’s last season. Expect him to hook up with WR’s Pharoh Cooper and Shaq Roland when he looks to pass the ball.
Even though SC does not have as much talent on offense as some other teams in the league, Spurrier is still sharp as a tack when it comes to game planning and play calling.
The difference for the Gamecocks the last few years has been an improved defensive unit. The last two seasons their strength was along their defensive front, but now the power looks to be in the middle of the defense at linebacker.
Returning to lead the way are Kaiwan Lewis and Skai Moore. The rest of the defense features a lot of new faces and younger players that have talent but need some playing time. The Gamecocks were 3rd in the SEC in total defense and they allowed only 22 points per game, which put them at 4th in the SEC.
The Gamecocks became one of the best 3rd down defensive teams by allowing opposing offenses to convert only 34.7 percent of the time.
Man, as far as their schedule, it doesn't start tougher for anyone than SC. They'll open with A&M, followed by a date with East Carolina, UGA, Vandy and then defending East champs Missouri. If the Gamecocks can come out of that stretch 4-2 they will be OK. Good thing for them that the first three games are at home.
Another 11 win season is more than likely the goal, but to reach 11 wins this season may perhaps be the best job the ole ball coach has done at South Carolina.
Tennessee Volunteers: People started singing Rocky Top again last season, and it was due to the respectable season that Butch Jones mustered up in his first season as coach of UT. The sleeping giant in Knoxville woke up last year - and now he might even walk upright! I don’t have to tell you how much tradition and support the Tennessee program has. And when the Vols are winning, their program is as good as any.
Now winning and winning big is something that has not happened since Phillip Fulmer was in charge, but the dog days of Lane and Derrick are over. Butch Jones is the man and I think he’s going to make the Vols faithful proud once again.
The Vols were much better than their 5-7 record indicated a season ago; they could have easily been 7-5. More importantly, you could see that the hard play in the Vols was consistent, and even in some blowout losses, the team did not quit.
On offense, it’s amazing that the Vols were able to win five games with an scoring average of 18 points per game. This unit can’t be any worse in 2014. QB Justin Woorley is back, and he or Joshua Dobbs could be the top signal caller. The Vols have the luxury of having some pretty good WR’s with players like Marquez North and Von Pearson back. North showed signs of being a solid player for UT during his freshman season a year ago.
On defense, Tennessee welcomes back the SEC’s second leading tackler in LB A.J Johnson, who had 81 stops a season ago, averaging a shade over 10 tackles per game. DB Brian Randolph is back after picking up 34 solo stops last season and four interceptions to his credit. Incoming freshman Emmanuel Mosley could start, as he was one of the nation's most sought-after recruits a year ago. The Vols could get many new faces on the field quicker than not with the country’s 5th-best recruiting class coming on campus.
ennessee has two winnable games against Utah State and Arkansas State the first two weeks of the season, but then brutal road trips to Oklahoma to face the Sooners, followed by a trip to Georgia to play the Bulldogs.
Picking five wins for the Vols is a hard feat with so much unknown right now, but with the job that Butch Jones has done in a short amount of time, patience may be the key. With more experience from some of the nation’s best freshman forthcoming and more stockpiled recruiting classes in the fold I can see these Vols becoming a power in the East once again. But it will take some time.